Poverty rates have risen for children in the last five years. Seven in ten children in poverty are now in a working family, because working families are being pulled into poverty by falling income from benefits and rising housing costs.
The risk of poverty for lone parents is almost twice as high as for any other family type. Lone parents on low incomes have spoken of insecurity across many aspects of their lives: ‘dehumanising’ work, feeling trapped ‘in a never-ending circle’ by the benefits system, and feeling ‘stuck’ in unaffordable or insecure housing with ‘no alternative’.
Research suggests a link between confident parenting and poverty: the less parents have to worry about where their family’s next meal will come from and how to keep their children warm because they can’t afford to pay for heating, the less confident they will be as parents. Living in poverty is stressful, draining, tiring and depressing – emotions that take energy away from the important task of being an intentional and interactive parent. For children to flourish in life, they need to be a part of a strong family and, sadly, the villain in this story is poverty. There’s no quick or easy fix to any of this but what shouldn’t be a debate is that it needs fixing.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s UK Poverty 2019/20 report says that trends in poverty levels are driven by changes in four main factors: the employment rate; earnings; benefits and other income like pensions; and housing costs. Since 2004/05, there has not been a sustained period where all four of these drivers have gone in the right direction. A successful strategy on poverty would therefore be rooted in high employment, rising earnings, benefits rising by at least inflation for those who need them, and falling rents compared with earnings and benefits.
The success of such a strategy is rooted in policy change, which might be interpreted as absolution from responsibility but what if: rather than subscribing to the notion that if we (regular you and regular me) don’t work in government there’s not much we can do, we bought into the idea that every little effort matters? Start small…the family next door to you, on your street or perhaps a block away – how can you help? Here are some really simple but meaningful ways to get involved in the fight against poverty in your community:
Stay aware and informed: if the problem is not acknowledged, there is no way that you, as an individual, family, church, community or organisation can address it.
Talk about it: it’s no good being aware and informed if you don’t share the information with those in your circle of influence. Chat about what poverty looks like with your kids; chat about it with your friends and in your community. Conversations may be uncomfortable but poverty is uncomfortable and sometimes the only way to make a difference is to open yourself up to a little discomfort.
Donate: this is one of the easiest ways to help fight poverty in your community; donate to food banks, charities, events etc. Every little bit helps. However, it’s also important to acknowledge that as much as making a donation matters (and it does!) it’s also an easy way out of truly facing the social realities that are hidden in our neighbourhoods.
Fundraise: money allows charities to invest in communities and any efforts to fundraise on their behalf or alongside them are always appreciated.
Volunteer: a more personal investment is to volunteer. This could mean volunteering your time and skills to a charity, a campaign or movement and even better; think about local opportunities that might be available to you in your community, like shelters and kitchens, delivering care packages to new mothers or hosting play groups and lunches for community members. This is a great way to build relationships with the people around you; to really invest in your community. To show that you care. To make a difference.
Time is so precious and giving it away is costly but what greater sacrifice than that which enables love in action? What greater sacrifice than offering kindness, thought and energy to the children and families in your community who struggle to make it through each and every day without great cost to their mental health, stability and well-being. It is worth it.
The trained facilitators that run Kids Matter programmes in partnership with 50 churches come into contact with the effects of poverty on families and see first hand how it impacts the ability of children to flourish in life. We support these families with a programme that aims to equip parents with the tools to build strong families. If you’d like to find out more about Kids Matter or would like to get involved, as a volunteer or by financially supporting our programme, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And for more on our IMPACT, click here.